Friday, June 10, 2011

Thumbs up or down on bills that may impact Pennsylvania Seniors

On June 8th I was honored to speak at the River Valley Senior Providers Group meeting in Watsontown. I discussed a number of bills that are currently under consideration by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Those bills, with my personal opinion (thumbs up or thumbs down) on whether they are good for seniors and adults with special needs, are listed below. The descriptions are admittedly oversimplifications.

Senate Bill 1092  –Would require 2 witnesses when a power of attorney is signed. Each witness would have to sign an affidavit that the principal was of sound mind and under no undue influence at the time. These new requirements may make it more difficult and expensive for lawyers (especially solo-practitioners) to provide their clients with powers of attorney. This bill would also reverse the result in the Vine case in order to protect banks and other third parties who accept a power of attorney. While there is general agreement that Vine should be legislatively reversed, SB 1092 goes well beyond the provisions needed to do so. 

Senate Bill 96  - Would make it more difficult for an agent to preserve the assets of the principal from the cost of long term care and help the principal qualify for benefits like Medicaid and VA pension even if that is what the principal wanted. The Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) proposed this bill which includes severe restrictions on an individual’s right to delegate benefit planning authority to his or her spouse or other agent.  The Uniform Power of Attorney Act (UPAA) takes a much more balanced approach in allowing a duly authorized agent to act to qualify the principal for benefit programs if that is what the principal would want. At page 2 of the March 2010 Report that serves as the rationale for SB 96, the JSGC admits that “the UPAA is better organized and more thorough and specific than Pennsylvania’s current power of attorney statute. . . ” but then shuns recommending adoption of the UPAA because of “a general sense of satisfaction among practitioners regarding Pennsylvania’s current power of attorney statute.” In my opinion, Pennsylvania citizens deserve to have the best law possible on powers of attorney. Pennsylvania should replace its current power of attorney laws with the more well-considered and reasonable Uniform Power of Attorney Act.  

House Bill 210  – Would update the PA Family Caregiver Support Program to remove the requirement that the caregiver must live in the same home as the care recipient and be related. The bill would also adjust the amounts available to a qualified primary caregiver from the levels established in 1990. Everyone agrees we need to move the setting for long term services and supports out of institutions and into the home.  Not only do most people prefer to receive care at home, it saves money for taxpayers.  Providing support for family caregivers can help keep care recipients out of institutions.   

Senate Bill 901  – Would protect the spouses of Medicaid/LTC recipients by requiring Legislative approval before DPW can expand its estate recovery program.

House Bill 321  – Would repeal the current law that makes children legally responsible to  care for and financially support their indigent parent. The current law is being used by some nursing homes to sue the children of their residents for the cost of care.   

The above bills and any other bills introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature this year are available on the website of the Pennsylvania General Assembly http://www.legis.state.pa.us.   

Is a Medicaid block grant in Pennsylvania’s future?  While a bill has not yet been introduced, we may see legislation later this year which would seek to change the PA Medicaid program from its federal matching grant funding to block grant (capped) funding and also allow states to do away with current federal protections (e.g. the spousal impoverishment rules). For more information, see my blog article “Making Sense of Medicaid Block Grants”
 
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